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Parks equal big bucks

The longstanding argument prevails.When it comes to protected areas, people often pit the costs of protecting an area against the economic benefits…

The longstanding argument prevails.

When it comes to protected areas, people often pit the costs of protecting an area against the economic benefits of industrial development.

After all, we rely on employment and income to provide for ourselves and our families, right?

But few consider where the money comes from.

This issue keeps repeating, so in an attempt to broaden understanding of the economic argument, CPAWS, along with some partners, commissioned two independent studies to examine the economic impacts of an existing and a potential new national park in southern Yukon or Northern British Columbia.

The studies make a strong economic case for national parks, a diversified economy and community benefits.

The federal national park system is incomplete.

At present, national parks protect only about two per cent of Canada.

Parks Canada spends $332 million annually. National park visitors spend an additional $1.5 billion per year.

Taken together, this creates close to 30,000 “full-time equivalent” jobs.

One can imagine the potential increase in visitor spending and jobs if the national park system was completed.

In 2002, Ottawa announced a long-term action plan to complete and fund the creation of national parks in each of Canada’s 39 distinct natural regions.

Natural Region 7 spans a big chunk of southern Yukon and northern BC. Currently, it lacks a national park.

A national park in Region 7 would have significant positive economic impacts on adjacent communities, the region and the Yukon as a whole.

It would also help complete the national park system.

If one was established, the study forecasts Parks Canada would spend $14 million over the first 10 years, and visitors would spend more than $16 million during the same period, for a total of $30 million.

The impact on gross domestic product in the local area would be about $1 million annually, and close to 30 “full-time equivalent jobs” would be created.

Candidate areas considered included Wolf Lake/Upper Liard in the Yukon, near the communities of Teslin and Watson Lake, and Jennings Lake in northern BC, between Good Hope Lake and Watson Lake.

Research shows that one of the most important factors influencing amenity migration is community proximity to protected areas.

A park suggests stability, drawing people to an area.

That is, people will move from cities to a small town that offers a nice standard of living.

And parks guarantee a nice standard of living.

These newcomers are often skilled, which benefits the small town.

The benefits extend beyond the regional. They apply to the whole territory.

The total economic impact from Parks Canada and related visitor spending throughout the Yukon already includes a $9.2 million contribution to the GDP, labour income of $7.6 million, and about 284 “full-time equivalent” jobs.

Part of this impact is the result of Kluane National Park.

The other study focused on the economic impacts of an existing national park — Kluane — during the 1999-2004 period.

The Kluane study found the average annual expenditure by Parks Canada was $2.11 million.

Parks Canada directly created about 28.5 person-years of employment and had an average annual payroll of $1.23 million annually during the five-year period.

Total annual visitor spending associated with Kluane National Park and Reserve was calculated at $3.21 million, based on 75,478 non-resident visitors spending an average of $42.50 each.

The economic impacts from all spending associated with Kluane add $2.5 million annually to the Yukon’s GDP, and labour income is enhanced by $2.2 million.

More than 57 person-years of employment are generated annually from this spending.

Kluane Park and its related economic impacts account for approximately seven per cent of the Haines Junction economy, a significant percentage that compares well with other major economic activities in the region.

We have a new federal government now that probably needs reminding that, though our national parks system is still far from complete, we still have a tremendous opportunity to protect large, intact, wild spaces.

Although the value of protecting these spaces can be demonstrated in terms of job creation and revenue, they are also valuable for the clean water, fresh air and spiritual renewal they provide.

The benefits of completing the national park system could include the expansion of Nahanni and establishing a new park in the Yukon in Region 7.

It’s unfortunate we have to consider the economic argument in favour of protected areas, but the reality is that many people want to know about money and jobs.

Last fall, Dave Foreman addressed this at the Eighth World Wilderness Congress in Anchorage.

His simple message encouraged people not to lose sight of the intrinsic value of wild spaces — reflecting the belief that all life has the right to existence in and of itself and deserves full respect, appreciation and protection.

After all, our own health and well-being rely on a healthy, functioning planet.

Although this argument may not always stand on its own, it certainly is one we should not forget or abandon.

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Theresa Gulliver is forest conservation co-ordinator for CPAWS-Yukon